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Call to end an Australian rip off

DILI (UCAN): About 3,000 people marched from the Australian-owned Tiger refuelling station to the Australian embassy in the Timor-Leste capital of Dili on February 23, demanding that the Australian government stop exploiting oil and gas reserves in the Timor Gap—the maritime boundary separating the two countries—and using a treaty it signed with Indonesia in 1972 to justify it.

The treaty was signed as an impetus to the Indonesian invasion of what was then a Portuguese colony known as East Timor in 1975.

Juvinal Diaz, the coordinator of the Movement Against the Occupation of the Timor Sea, told the rally that the value of aid received from Australia since 1999, about US$1.7 billion ($13.18 billion), is less than the US$5 billion ($38.75 billion) it has picked up in the last 10 years from oil and gas in the Timor Gap.

“The truth is that it is the right of Timor-Leste people. Through this mass demonstration we demand the Australian government immediately dialogue with Timor-Leste,” Diaz, a researcher at Lao Hamutuk, an independent monitoring group of the country’s economy and development, said.

The movement published a declaration demanding that Australia resolve its maritime boundary dispute with Timor-Leste through the International Court of Justice and the International Tribunal for the Law of the Sea.

Diaz claims that the treaty signed with Indonesia is invalid under international law.

“When Timor-Leste gained independence through a referendum on 30 August 1999, Australia still controlled the country’s marine resources,” he pointed out.

The foreign minister of Timor-Leste, Hernani Coelho, revealed that the prime minister, Rui Maria de Araujo, had sent a letter offering to negotiate the maritime boundaries, but the Australian government has not responded.

“Australia has not responded, unlike Indonesia, which has been very cooperative in settling maritime boundary (issues) with Timor-Leste. With Indonesia, it is nearing completion,” Coelho told the media.

Marito Reis, a former political prisoner and now cabinet member, also voiced his concern, saying, “For 24 years Timor-Leste fought against the Indonesian military to have full independence and entitlement of land and marine resources. Unfortunately, it is still gripped by Australia.”

Gregorio Saldanha, a social rights advocate, said Australia was partly responsible for Timor-Leste’s poverty. He noted that 40,000 Timorese died fighting for Australia against the Japanese troops during World War II.


“Timorese people have been impoverished since the era of Japanese, Portuguese and Indonesian colonisation. At this time most people are still poor and dependent on natural resources, such as oil and gas,” he pointed out.

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